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tv   Nightline  ABC  November 21, 2011 11:35pm-12:00am EST

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children behind. tonight, suspicions of foul play and a desperate search for clues. plus, dancing with a hero. he tangos. he waltzes. he jives on "dancing with the stars." but in iraq he tangled with death. tonight his untold story of dark days, a career break and the power of a mother's love. and wing and a prayer. here they come. it is the action-packed airport with the world's biggest planes flying over the beach and every touchdown is a real blast. and good evening, i'm cynthia mcfadden. we begin with an urgent search for a missing florida mother.
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just hours before michelle parker vanished she was seen on national television appearing on the program "the people's court." she and her former fiance, the father of her twin, were in a tense face-off. he accused her of throwing away an expensive engagement ring. she accused him of violence. now her family is making an emotional appeal for her safe return. here's abc's matt gutman. >> this is the defendant. >> reporter: it seemed like a typical episode of "the people's court." >> he gets pretty malicious and vindictive and he is a mean person when he is drinking. >> reporter: michelle parker and her fiance dale smith bickering over an engagement ring thrown off a balcony. >> i took it off and threw it at him. >> reporter: even away from the camera their mundane arguments seemed to turn violent.
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>> he said get back up on stage you -- you know. >> reporter: just hours after this episode of "the people's court" finally aired last thursday she vanished. was it eerily foreshadowed or an uncanny coincidence? >> this is a made for tv case. they're now exes. fighting over an engagement ring and the day the show goes on television, she goes missing? >> kind of smashing my camera on the ground because i was a little angry. >> you sure showed that camera. >> reporter: smith is the father of their 3-year-old twins. >> it's been a hell of a roller-coaster ride and it's poison. >> reporter: something parker knew for years. in 2009 she filed and was grand a restraining order against smith. parker claimed he, quote, smashed the passenger side window in my suv, took car seats out and threw them into the road. his facebook page lists his education as having studied death, destruction, terror and
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mayhem at the u.s. marine corps. but orlando police say smith is not a suspect and that he is so far cooperating with investigators. >> we're not looking at him. we're looking at everything. >> reporter: parker was last seen around 2:00 p.m. thursday dropping her kids off at smith's home. at about 4:00 p.m. her brother received a short text from her but she never showed up for her 6:00 p.m. bartending shift. her cell phone last pinged a tower at 8:00 p.m. and her 11-year-old calls his grandmother to ask where is mom. >> her son called to say is mom is at the salon. no, honey, she went to drop off the babies. she should be home and taking a nap. he said i haven't seen her since i got home from school. >> reporter: on police found her black hummer near an orlando mall she rarely visited and on sunday they searched her ex-fiance's home at and a nearby field. has she ever disappeared before.
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>> never. >> reporter: never not called. >> no. >> reporter: or took a few hours to be by herself? no. >> reporter: her mother has been desperately searching for four days. she was a doting mother forced to move back home by economic conditions and was a reluctant participant. >> it was so she wouldn't have to pay for that engage many ring. she said that was the most humiliating experience of my life. i don't even ever want to see it. >> reporter: it's not clear whether parker watched that episode, her mother claimed one thing seems clear so far. >> i know that dale smith was the last person to see her alive. the police have investigated. they've talked to him. they searched everything he owns. >> reporter: but the timing of parker's disappearance continues to mystify investigators here. if it was a random crime on the day that she happened to be on national television in this context that would be an
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incredible coincidence. >> reporter: what's your biggest fear right now. >> my biggest fear is that michelle is being held by someone and that she's hungry or if she's thirsty, you know, or if she's being drugged and just laying up somewhere and doesn't even know where she is. that's my biggest fear. people do really awful mean things and i don't understand it. >> reporter: hundreds of friends and volunteers continue to search with no leads. for "nightline," i'm matt gutman in orlando. >> "good morning america" will have the latest on the case in the morning. and just ahead, he's got moves and moxie. fans saw him tonight on "dancing with the stars." the story behind the story. next. next.
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there are all kinds of heroes. viewers of abc's "dancing with the stars" this season have met a contestant whose life story is as compelling as his footwork. he's j.r. martinez. a soldier whose injuries nearly took his life in the iraq war but it's an unlikely showdown with his mother as he lay in the hospital propelled him on the road to recovery and finally to the dance floor. abc's deborah roberts has his story. ♪ >> reporter: he has tangoed, wal waltzed and jived his way to the finals of "dancing with the stars." he's graced the cover of "people" magazine, even been
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named one of its sexiest men alive. not bad for a guy whose name at first didn't register with dance partner screen that smirnoff. >> i said, you have a war veteran, so i'm thinking, which war? world war i? >> reporter: it was just eight years ago that j.r. martinez was as far from the glitz and glamour as humanly possible waking up in a hospital bed with nearly half his body charred following a bomb attack in iraq. >> i saw my mother standing right at my bedside kind of over me and i picked up my hand as far as i could and she met me the rest of the way and we held hands and i said to her, i said i told you i was going to come back. >> reporter: and come back, he did. in large part due to a special bond with a loving single mom from el salvador. >> i was always a happy kid and a lot of credit goes to my mother for allowing me to just be a kid and enjoy life. >> reporter: though he longed for a father jose rene martinez
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was a popular teenager who dreamed of playing pro football and whose world centered around sports and girls. >> all my life growing up as a young man i heard from people, you know, oh, he's handsome. i never heard anyone say you have a great personality. >> reporter: you looked in the mirror. you did your hair. >> i did my hair. girls loved to play with my curly hair and that was my pride thing. >> reporter: an injury forced him to rethink his future. >> one of those commercials came on about the united states army. >> reporter: he enlisted. at 19 after three weeks of duty a routine drive in a humvee would change his life forever. >> they said, martinez, it's your turn to drive. even i'm at war i'm not processing that. i had one hand on the steering wheel, the window was halfway down and i'm driving as if i'm driving down sunset boulevard. >> reporter: being cool. >> being cool at 19 years old. >> reporter: then the unthinkable. >> boom, the explosion.
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everything just slowed down. i felt this wave of like force, of power, of energy just starting at my feet and literally working its way through my body. the next thing i remember is being pinned inside the vehicle. i could see my hands completely changing. >> reporter: like melting? >> yeah. i could see my hands -- my skin, you know, slowly just deteriorating. i can see my hands changing in the way that quite honestly only see in movies. i thought i was going to die. >> reporter: he would spend nearly three years undergoing 33 excruciating cosmetic and skin graft surgeries. >> that was when the real war was about to start after i came out of my coma being taken to the shower and then literally having to scrub my body. it was even more painful than the day i was trapped inside the truck and my body was on fire. i would literally plead with the
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nurse and i would say, why are you doing this to me? what have i done to you to deserve such punishment? >> reporter: just three weeks after his arrival he demanded that his nurse give him a mirror. >> i pushed the mirror away and i started to cry. for a week after i saw my face, i rarely spoke. i didn't tell my mother i loved her. >> reporter: you were just angry. >> i was angry. >> reporter: then one morning the power of a strong-willed mother would change everything. >> this is my mother's sack words -- [ speaking spanish ] >> in spanish fast my whole name. i'm scared. i know what your problem is. my response, sure you do. your problem, you're worried about girls. >> reporter: you were worried about girls. a simple moment of honesty. j.r. found the courage to face his new uncertain life. >> why did it have to be him and not me? >> reporter: in 2008 he heard of a casting call for a real-life
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veteran to play the role of brot monroe, an iraq war hero on abc's "all my children." when you got the role what did you think? >> i was nervous but i looked at this as an opportunity for me to raise awareness of veteran, their families, the issues they face. to put a face to beauty, an internal, deep, genuine beauty. >> reporter: audiences loved him and what was meant to be a short three-month gig became a three-year role. and even more rewarding, j.r. met diana jones, an executive assistant on the show's staff. >> we talked to each other about everything. we hung out a lot and finally, it just got to a point where my feelings started to change and i just kind of one day i just surprised her and i said, do you ever see me in a different way as more than a friend, you know, because i kind of look at you in a different way and she was just like, oh, stop it, j.r.
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>> don't ruin the friendship. >> reporter: but soon diana's feelings intensified. >> i just started looking at him differently. i've been searching for this great guy and it's been right next to me this whole time. >> reporter: were you insecure? were you worried at all whether she would be interested in you? >> yeah, i mean i think -- i think i had that concern when it came to you kiss a girl for the first time with burns -- is she -- with scars. will she be disgusted by the first time you expose your burns on your body, you know, to that person, are they going to not come back the following day but i have to say i knew she looked at me on a deeper level. >> reporter: when you see j.r., what do you see? >> oh, i see a hot, sexy guy. he's handsome and i love him. i mean i don't -- that's who i see. i see a great guy, you know, i see the man that i love. >> reporter: a man who's taken his life to new heights on the dance floor. with his one-woman cheering squad right there. are you nervous for him or just
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excited? >> i'm excised. i'm not nervous. when he puts his mind to something he just excels at it. he can in my eyes do anything, even watching the competition it's like he's going to win. >> one, two, three and four. one, two, three. there it is. >> reporter: tomorrow night j.r. martinez may very well be named champion, but to so many, he already is one. i'm deborah roberts for "nightline" in los angeles. >> ah, win or lose, amazing grace. next up, you might want to duck because of the airport where hair-raising landings are a tourist attraction.
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[ jennifer ] here... this is my world. ♪ this place inspires me to be tougher... to stay sharper... to think faster. they may bjust streets to you. but to me... they're a playground. ♪ ...loving you ♪ 'cause i'm alive, i can breathe, i can feel ♪ ♪ i believe ♪ and there ain't no doubt about it ♪
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there are two things that set apart the airport we're about to show you. the first is that in order to land giant jet planes must swoop low over a public beach. the second is that people actually go out of their way to be on that beach while planes are landing and taking off. here's abc's ryan owens. ♪ >> reporter: after the long flight to a caribbean paradise, most tourists can't wait to get away from the airport. except on the island of st. maarten. ♪ where the airport is the main attraction. thrill seekers flock here to sunbathe in the shadow of the jumbo jet.
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even snorkelers come to the surface for this show. >> hurry. >> reporter: youtube videos like this have turned the tiny island half dutch, half french into a top destination for aviation enhughes yass. >> whoo. >> reporter: none bigger than nathan. he wants to be a pilot and convince his parents to take the family vacation here. he's not alone. near the end of the runway the sunset bar and grill is packed. each morning they write the flight schedule on a surfboard. and broadcast air traffic control instead of music. all day the planes land and the crowds rush to the beach. beer in one hand, camera in the other. but there is one landing that can't be missed. >> right over there. >> reporter: the one mason came from arizona to see. >> big and blue. >> reporter: this klm 747 weighs
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nearly 900,000 pounds and is headed straight for the beach. and there was mason with a front row seat. mom captured the moment in this snapshot. best seat in the house. you'll never be able to do that in the u.s. >> reporter: but that's only half the thrill. literally. every flight that lands takes off and as these somewhat amusing signs warn, that's the real danger. >> we're ready to do it, baby. ha, ha. >> reporter: the massive engines on planes like this can produce winds of more than 100 miles an hour. >> we'll beat air france. >> got to hold on, though. >> free abrasion. we love it. >> reporter: the jet blast is
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celebrated with its own shot at the sunset bar. and some of the folks who get behind the engines seem to have had a few. see those young gentlemen hanging on the fence, one of them has our camera strapped to his chest. >> yay. >> reporter: on the one caribbean island where the most exhilarating part of your trip happens before you even leave the airport. i'm ryan owens for "nightline" in st. maarten. >> i don't know. doesn't look like much of a beach vacation for me. thanks for watching abc. don't forget "good morning america," "jimmy kimmel" is next. up next on an all new "jimmy kimmel live" -- >> "breaking dawn, part 1, made more than $140 million. it's refreshing to finally see a story about wolves and teen

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